Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Step 1: Designing your home with an architect

Selecting an architect will be one of the most important decisions that you make when building a home.  One of the best ways to find an architect is by word of mouth.  We ended up using a local architectural firm, who had a strong referral from my colleague.  When I called the firm, I asked for an architect who was familiar with the intricacies of building a house in our particular city.  As you go through the process of designing a home, it's really important to work with someone who has a strong understanding of things like: height restriction, setbacks, view corridors, etc.

A question that I often get is: "So how did you even start?  Did you work with a designer?"  The process is really quite simple when you break it down.  Our first meeting with our architect was an unstructured cluster of ideas.  We literally sat around a conference table telling him our likes and dislikes.  Many people have a "dream home file," myself included.  I had been tearing out pictures of things like: kitchens, baths, exterior trim, light fixtures, outdoor living spaces, etc.  All of these pictures are worth their weight in gold to an architect, because he/she can decipher a lot about your personal taste and style.  As our architect told us: Bring in lots of pictures, because these pictures are worth a thousand words.

Our list of must haves:

  • Basement: pretty rare in the Northwest, but when you're from the Midwest, a basement isn't just a place where the dust gathers.  For us, it was all about utilizing the space for extra storage and housing our mechanical (more on the basement saga in another post)
  • Mud room: a place to kick off our shoes, set down bags, hang up coats, wash dirty hands and a space that provides a transition between the garage and the main living area.
  • Open concept kitchen/great room: most people these days don't really use a formal dining room.  My husband has an awesome garage sale table that easily seats 8 people, and it was this piece of furniture that inspired creating a large area in the kitchen/great room to serve as our everyday table and the place where we'll host holiday dinners.  Instead, we decided to put a "flex room" in the place of a formal dining, which will allow us extra seating and a place to house my beloved Steinway piano.  
  • Big island and a small desk in the kitchen: while it seems somewhat obscure to have a built in desk in the kitchen area, it took some thinking about how we really  live to plan the kitchen area.  I love to bake and my husband loves to cook, so we wanted an area where he could be cooking the Thanksgiving turkey and I could be rolling out pie crusts on a large island.  We also included double ovens and a walk in pantry.  A prep sink may find it's way into the kitchen if the budget allows.  The desk is something that's a no-brainer to me.  If you're anything like me, you walk down to the mailbox and then come straight into the kitchen and plop the pile of mail on the counter.  Instead, I hope to use the built in desk as a receiving area for mail, as well as a place for my laptop where I frequently go to find recipes and design inspiration.  
  • Upstairs laundry room: essential!  After living in our old home for about 7 years, we realized that having the laundry room upstairs is the best idea ever.  Let's be honest: I hate doing laundry, and what I dislike even more is dragging loads of laundry up and down the stairs.  
  • Maximizing the view from the master bedroom and our child's bedroom: an absolute must, considering our lot has lake views.  
  • Utilizing the backyard in a way to give us the most outdoor living space.  This idea allowed us to get an entirely covered back porch that spans the width of the house.  Obviously, Seattle is a rainy place, but we're the type of people that don't mind sitting outside when it's drizzly and gray.  The outdoor living space is one of the things that we're most looking forward to!
From our list of must haves, we allowed our architect to use his talents to create a home that would be comfortable, casual and a blend of Northwest meets Hampton's coastal.  We wanted a home that was inviting, a place where friends could kick their shoes off, put their feet up and relax.  I also wanted to infuse a bit of character into the house, using shapes like circles and ovals.  Here's a sneak peak of the circular window that turns the corner of our master bedroom into a charming reading area:

Side view of house with circular vent and window
The entire process of designing our home took about 6 months.  You can expect to have weekly meetings with your architect to go over things like: floor plan, exterior elevation and trim, window packages, kitchen layout, revisions of things like how the stairs will land into your foyer and the placement of coat closets.  Just remember that throughout this process, there's quite a bit of "give" and "take."  I had to let go of a perfectly symmetrical front elevation to get things like a coat closet in the foyer and an upstairs laundry room.  With that being said, I think that so often, the "give" moments lead to an even better "take," so go into the design of your home with an open mind.

In my next post: Selecting a builder.

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